Hot on the heels of Twilight, Beautiful Creatures is chomping at the bit to become the next hot young adult supernatural romance. Like Twilight, it is an adaptation of a novel – the first in a series. It tells the story of a forward-thinking high school student stuck in a middle of nowhere southern town, and how he becomes mixed up in all manner of magic, danger, and romance when the new girl turns out to be no ordinary mortal.
Newcomers Alden Ehrenrich and Alice Englert star as Ethan Wate and Lena Duchannes in this magical teen romance. Continuing in what seems to be a trend in casting, Ehrenrich and Englert are 23 and 18, despite the fact that their characters are 16 and 15, respectively. At least that makes the heavy make-out sessions slightly less awkward. Slightly.
Ethan is more interested in reading banned books, including anything by Kubrick, than conforming to the traditional values of his small town of Gatlin South Carolina. He dreams of leaving to explore the world, or at least New York. When the mysterious Lena, niece of the reclusive Macon Ravenwood (Jeremy Irons) comes to town, Ethan is immediately drawn to the fellow outsider. Really? Ravenwood? All the non-cliche names were already taken?
It turns out that Lena and her eclectic family are Casters – we might call them witches – and she’s being guarded by her uncle from the dark influence of her mother (Emma Thompson) until her 16th birthday when she will be claimed for good or evil by the powers that apparently be, as determined by who she truly is. Nope, she doesn’t have a choice in the matter – only the men are able to decide to be dark or light. There are a couple of twists in the plot as the two teens fall for each other, learning that perhaps it’s not chance that they should find each other.
I went into this film with my expectations pretty low, only slightly raised due to a decent sounding cast, which also includes Viola Davis. I’ll admit that it was better than I expected, entirely due to the characters. They feel, for the most part, like they exist in a third dimension. They emote, have some depth, and a sharp wit about them. I can only assume that the screenwriters and actors had a lot to do with that, because the story itself is pretty sub-par. It’s all pretty cookie cutter and unimaginative in it’s rules and world creating. The intended demographic will likely lap it up. There wasn’t a single turn the story took that I didn’t see the sign for miles before, but at least the characters were usually more or less interesting travel companions, and the soundtrack was pleasant.
From a more personal perspective, the underlying ideas, themes, and message of the story bothered me more than the limited ability to craft a story. Having not read the books, I can’t attest to whether they follow in the same path or not, but I would assume they do. The film is overtly and unapologetically anti-Christian, painting pretty much anyone of faith as backwards and idiotic. It doesn’t explicitly say so, but that message is implied to extend to anyone who could be deemed as being “religious” in any faith. Even as it condemns, it also borrows from Christian symbolism for its own purposes. It attempts to add some sort of reasoning behind this with a statement about God creating everything, and it’s only people who decide if something is good or bad. In fact, the overall moral of the story, relying on heavy-handed Civil War metaphors, is that “dark and light” should not be separate. There is no good and evil, simply how people are perceived and how they use their “darkness and light.”
I find it disturbing, on a moral level, that a movie would pound so hard a message of “there is no real line between good an evil” through the heads of its tween audience. There have been far superior films that deal with the fact that sometimes the line between right and wrong can blur.
In the end, aside from moral and dogmatic quandaries, this is a nearly halfway decent movie, almost exclusively due the the characters and actors, as they skillfully maneuver through an undercooked plot with no surprises. The Twilight fans will probably love it.
My Rating: 2 out of 5 Hats
Mrs Hamster did not attend this screening
Beautiful Creatures opens in 2,900 theaters, Feb. 14